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From October 16, 2006                                                                                                        

EU Environmental Committee Upholds Integrity of REACH
(Beyond Pesticides, October 16, 2006)
On October 10, the European Parliament’s (EP) Environment Committee voted to strengthen its stance on hazardous substances and animal testing as it works with the European Union’s (EU) Council of Ministers to pass legislation, despite efforts from U.S. and European groups to lessen standards to reduce costs. In approving the program for the Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH), the Committee confirmed four major priorities of EP: substitution of alternatives for most dangerous substances, the duty of care, compulsory safety assessments for chemical products, and promotion of alternatives to animal testing.

In reaffirming the first, the Committee argued that substances with carcinogenic, reproductive, or persistent effects in humans should be banned unless “suitable alternative substances or technologies do not exist,” if “it is demonstrated that the social or economic advantages outweigh the risks” on humans or the environment, or if the risk is “adequately controlled.” In addition, these substances would only be authorized under these conditions for five years at a time.

The second principle, “duty of care,” requires manufacturers, importers and downstream users of chemicals make “every effort that may reasonably be required” to minimize negative effects on human health or the environment and must provide full information about risks or, if needed, technical assistance.

The third, reduction of animal testing, calls for the Commission, Member States, and companies to allocate resources towards devising and adopting tests that do not involve animals. In addition, the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods should be consulted on testing proposals that include animal tests.

The Committee plans for these regulations to be supported by EU aid to small- and medium-sized firms, helping them to carry out necessary tests needed to provide the required information on products. In spite of this consideration, several groups are protesting the stricter regulations proposed by the EU, arguing that they will put a prohibitive cost on production and trade. Angela Logomasini, director of risk and environmental policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), has been published by the Hayek Institute in Belgium. Her report on REACH argued against bans of some chemicals in Europe, saying, “European nations are already using the POPs treaty to propse worldwide bans on substances they have already eliminated domestically, even when such products have valuable uses in the United States. For example, Europeans have proposed banning the pesticide lindane* which is used in the United States to fight lice and other vectors.”

Environmental and some industry groups applaud the Environmental Committee and Parliament on the aggressive steps taken towards protecting public health from chemicals and practices known to be dangerous. Unilever, a Dutch company with brands in the detergent, soap and food sectors, commended the Committee’s vote for constituting “a unique opportunity to simplify existing chemical legislation while enhancing consumer confidence in chemicals.” Greenpeace, an outspoken defender of REACH, has published extensively on its support of REACH. Vice-President Gunter Verheugen, in a 2005 letter to Greenpeace, wrote, “I am convinced that we can achieve these goals in harmony with the Lisbon programme [assuring competitiveness of European industries]. We will also promote the innovativeness and competitiveness of European businesses to such an extent that they will be able to participate fully in attaining the fundamental environment and health objectives of REACH.” EP will vote on the final version of REACH by November or December. The Council has not yet approved the final consensus.

The REACH plan goes much further than the U.S. evaluation system under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) carried out by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Many believe that the stricter laws in Europe will increase pressure on the U.S. system for pesticide reform.

For previous Beyond Pesticides articles on REACH, click here.

*Lindane has already been banned in the U.S. for agricultural uses. Beyond Pesticides supports the elimination of lindane in North America. It was banned in California (for treatment of head lice and scabies) in 2000 (effective 2002).